Indonesia

Indonesia: N. Sumatra mulls emergency copters

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By Apriadi Gunawan

Officials warn that North Sumatra is unable to respond to natural disasters in remote areas because it lacks the necessary transportation.

The issue was raised during a meeting in Medan between the National Coordination Agency and the North Sumatra Natural Disaster Coordination Unit, led by Governor Rudolf Pardede.

North Sumatra is considering the purchase of helicopters, which would be able to speed up the distribution of relief aid to remote areas.

Regents and mayors in the province whose areas have been affected by disasters have voiced support for the proposal.

Mandailing Natal Regent Amru Daulay said he had first-hand experience with the difficulty of getting aid to people in isolated areas.

Following an earthquake and landslide in Muara Sipongi district in December last year, he said relief workers had to walk for hours, or sometimes even days, to reach some areas. As a result, many survivors fell ill and had to deal with food shortages because of the belated arrival of assistance.

The Langkat regency administration has also had trouble responding to natural disasters.

During flooding in December last year, Langkat Regent Syamsul Arifin said rescue teams were unable to reach some survivors because roads were cut off. As a result, many people were left stranded on the roofs of their houses for days.

Governor Rudolf said the province needed helicopters to improve its disaster response efforts. He said the administration would begin exploring options for purchasing helicopters.

"There are procedures we have to go through to procure the helicopters, but it is vital," Rudolf said.

Indonesian Military general affairs assistant, Commodore Agung Budi Rahardjo, who also attended the meeting, said his office backed the idea of procuring helicopters.

The director general of social affairs at the North Sumatra Social Welfare Office, Ghazali Simatupang, said administrations were authorized to purchase airplanes and helicopters for the purpose of disaster relief.

"North Sumatra is one of 21 provinces in Indonesia which is prone to natural disasters. Every region should prepare the necessary modes of transportation for reaching isolated disaster areas rapidly. No matter how much aid arrives, it is useless if there is no way to transport it," said Ghazali.

Meanwhile, in response to the central government's pledge to assist flood and landslide survivors in Mandailing Natal and Langkat regencies, Ghazali said reconstruction and rehabilitation work would begin immediately in the two areas.

He said his office planned to relocate all of the landslide survivors in Mandailing Natal because they lived in a disaster-prone area. He added the government would rebuild the homes of flood survivors in Langkat.

"We are ready to disburse the funds in February," said Ghazali.